IN BRITAIN we commute on public transport for longer and further than anyone else in Europe and few of us look forward to our daily commute. That includes me; I have been commuting to Preston for over ten years and I have had to find a creative way to pass the time on my daily commute, in this case by drawing my fellow passengers. I am giving away a tabloid newspaper on the 14th February, on my commute it is if you like a travelling exhibition of commuter portraits. I will be giving the newspaper away free in February so you might spot yourself if you are on the Northern rail service to Blackpool North, or the York train on the return trip.
After only a few months of travelling regularly as a commuter the repetition was beginning to get to me. I was worried that I was losing my ability to draw through lack of time to practice and someone suggested I should use my time on the train more creatively. I think they were joking, but I took the suggestion seriously and now I have amassed literally hundreds of drawings of my fellow commuters and filled over thirty sketch books.
I was a freelance illustrator for many years. I drew pictures for a living, pictures of breweries, and hotels, theatres, banks, even Betty’s of Harrogate. My work was usually commissioned by publishers, and graphic designers. Even though I now teach others to be illustrators at the University of Central Lancashire I still try to draw every day in much the same way that I imagine pianists or guitarists practice every day. I need to draw whenever I can, and the train is the ideal place, a captive audience.
Even though my models are often asleep, reading the Metro, or texting friends, I try to capture them through observational drawing. I never have longer than about 40 minutes to make a drawing, the length of my average journey. I often have considerably less time if people move or reach their destination. Sometimes I only have seconds before people move, or get up and leave the train. That can be quite difficult but sometimes they end up being the best drawings. (The ones where I don’t have too much time to worry whether it looks like them or not). Once they’re on paper they capture a moment in time I think.I decided to celebrate my fascination with drawing my fellow commuters in print by giving away a tenth anniversary collection of drawings, in a free commemorative newspaper. I was inspired to create a newspaper format by the Metro free newspaper something that all commuters have picked up at one time or another on a long journey.
I have also created some digital images in colour from my sketchbook drawings. These include textures photographed on my mobile phone on the train, and the images were created on my laptop during my journey.Some of the people I have drawn I have since discovered to be colleagues at the university, some have become friends, others have remained steadfastly strangers, or are just passing through. This newspaper contains about seventy drawings selected from my sketch books.
The other day I was asked if anyone has ever taken exception to being drawn, however I have only been asked what I was doing twice in ten years. I showed them their drawings, I’m not sure if they were impressed exactly, but they weren’t upset either, just interested. It is only my way of recording my
surroundings. I am just drawing what I think I see. Drawing is a gentle process, I think, it is about observation. I am simply curious about whether I can capture some kind of record of the person I see opposite.